Western Brooklyn

Liberty Weekend Is This Saturday — Here Are Six Things You Should Know About The New Utrecht Liberty Pole

Photo by Bensonhurst Bean
Photo by Bensonhurst Bean

For most of us on the ground, the flag that rises on the lawn of Bensonhurst’s historic New Utrecht Reformed Church could easily be mistaken for a power line. But a glance up — 106 feet up, to be exact — reveals a pointed tip with a weather vane and wooden eagle perched up top.

The New Utrecht Liberty Pole is the only one of its kind remaining from the original thirteen United States and it bears the American flag on special occasions. One such occasion is Liberty Weekend, this Saturday, June 4 — sponsored by Friends of Historic New Utrecht — on the grounds of the New Utrecht Reformed Church (18th Avenue and 84th Street).

The community will celebrate the 233rd anniversary of the famous pole with historical displays and presentations, Revolutionary War re-enactors, a lecture, a bake sale and tours of the Old New Utrecht Cemetery and other free events from 11am – 4pm.

Last year's Liberty Weekend festivities. (Courtesy of Friend of Historic New Utrecht)
Last year’s Liberty Weekend festivities. (Courtesy of Friend of Historic New Utrecht)

Featured will be the Royal Highland Regiment, the famous Black Watch, which fought for Britain in the Revolutionary War, including the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. Other re-enactors will represent George Washington, and American and British soldiers and officers. Here is a schedule of events on New Utrecht’s past that will be open to visitors:

11am – All are invited to the regular Sunday service in the New Utrecht Reformed Church.

11:45am to 1:15pm – Dave Elligers will lead a tour of the Old New Utrecht Reformed Church Cemetery, on 85th Street with the entrance east of 16th Avenue. He gives a similar tour on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 2:30pm. Liberty Weekend is the only time during the year that the cemetery, dating back to the 1600’s, is opened to the general public.

12pm – 3:30 pm — Sale of baked goods and costume jewelry with proceeds going toward the re-opening of the historic church sanctuary, currently closed for restoration and repair. The sanctuary was built in 1828 with stones taken from the original church built in the Old Cemetery in 1700.

2pm – The Parish House will be the venue for a lecture by Michael Callahan of the National Parks Service on “The Aftermath of the Battle of Saratoga, 1777 – 1783”, six years of fighting in up-State New York between American forces and the British and their Indian allies.

3:30pm – Ceremony honoring the 233rd anniversary of the raising of the first Liberty Pole on the site at the end of the Revolutionary War.

Finally, if you live in Bensonhurst, and plan to attend the festivities his weekend, here are six things you should probably know about the New Utrecht Liberty Pole:

1. A bronze tablet on the pole is inscribed with the following words:

This Liberty Pole marks the spot over which the American flag first waved in the town of New Utrecht. The original pole was erected by our forefathers at the Evacuation of the British, November 1783, amid the firing of cannons and demonstration of joy.

2. It may look tiny from where we are standing but the weather vane — an eagle is made of wood — boasts a five-foot wingspan. After two hundred and twenty years, the weather has weakened it considerably and it has been reinforced with iron bands.

3. For more than a century, the pole was cared for by the New Utrecht Liberty Pole Association, founded in 1908 by Mrs. Elizabeth Ditmars Van Pelt in the living room of the Van Pelt Manor House.

Courtesy of Friends of Historic New Utrecht
Courtesy of Friends of Historic New Utrecht

Townsend Cortelyou and Elizabeth Van Pelt presented the fourth Liberty Pole in 1910, the Van Pelts had been leading the movement to preserve the Liberty Pole for over 25 years. They tended to the pole, were entrusted with the flag and saw that the flag was raised on public holidays throughout those years.

5. On September 22, 2002, 84th Street was renamed Liberty Pole Boulevard.

6. It is the sixth pole erected in succession on the church grounds. Previous incarnations of the pole were destroyed after being struck by lightning, according to inscribed plaques.

Anyone interested in learning more about Liberty Weekend, New Utrecht’s landmarks and the history of the Town of New Utrecht are invited to call 718-256-7173, visit www.historicnewutrecht.org or www.facebook.com/FriendsofHistoricNewUtrecht, or inquire at mail@historicnewutrecht.org.

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